United Nations Human Rights Framework

The United Nations (UN) is an international organisation established in 1945 by countries following World War II who were committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. Most countries in the world have now become members of the UN by ratifying the UN Charter which is the foundational treaty of the organisation and sets out the powers of various UN bodies such as the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

Through the UN Charter and UN human rights treaties, States have established a global system of accountability which places duties on each State to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. At the UN, international human rights law and standards are constantly being further developed through the various UN mechanisms.  

Core UN Human Rights Treaties

When a State ratifies a treaty it indicates its consent to be legally bound by all of the obligations contained therein. States voluntarily enter into these international agreements with the approval of the national parliament. The UK has ratified seven core UN human rights treaties:

The UK has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced disappearance. These treaties therefore have no effect in the UK.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 and is the foundational document of international human rights law. It represents the first proclamation of fundamental rights that all human beings are inherently entitled to. The UDHR is not legally binding, but  it has led to the development of the various human rights treaties that do carry legal force.

UN Bodies

The UN system also contains mechanisms and bodies that monitor the Member States’ implementation of their human rights obligations. These can broadly be divided into two categories:

  • the UN treaty bodies, who monitor the implementation of UN human rights treaties by States Parties who have ratified each treaty;
  • the UN Charter-based bodies, such as the Human Rights Council or Special Rapporteurs, who can review the human rights practices of all members of the United Nations